Inside the Locker Room: The Training Staff

Inside the Locker Room: The Wizards Training Staff

By Josh Sekine,
March 7, 2002

The Training Room

Eric Hernandez/Wizards Photo

One of the most important keys to the success of a professional sports team is the training staff, and for the Washington Wizards it's no different. The Wizards have one of the most dedicated sets of trainers and strength coaches in the league. Day in and day out they make sure that the players are well conditioned and ready to fight a fierce battle on the basketball court.

Head Trainer: Steve Stricker

Ask Wizards Head Trainer Steve Stricker what the best part of his job is and he'll give you a simple answer: "I enjoy just coming to work everyday. That's been the best thing this season."

In his first year as the Head Trainer for the Washington Wizards, Stricker brings 14 years of training experience to the team.

Stricker began his career as a student trainer while at Iowa State University. After earning his Bachelor of Science in 1985 and his Masters of Science in 1991 he stayed on with the school and became an assistant trainer with the football and men's basketball teams from 1986-1993.

He left Iowa State in 1993 to become the head athletic trainer at University of Texas at Arlington, where he ran his own training program from July 1993 to September 1995.

In 1995 he took a job with the University of Michigan where he served as the head basketball trainer for six years. In 2000 he was named the associate supervisor of athletic medicine.

Stricker was contacted by the Wizards front office at the end of the 2000-01 season about becoming the team's head trainer. After interviews with General Manager Wes Unseld, Assistant General Manager Rod Higgins, then President of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan and Head Coach Doug Collins, Stricker was hired as the Wizards new Head Trainer.

Stricker works with Etan Thomas.

Eric Hernandez/Wizards Photo

"It was a dream come true not only to work in the NBA, but to work with Michael and work with this organization which obviously has taken a positive turn here in the last two years," Stricker said.

Stricker credits his hard work as a trainer on the college level to helping him obtain the Wizards position, but he also feels lucky enough to know good people who recommended his name when the job came open. He had known Collins from his days at Michigan when Collins would take time from coaching the Detroit Pistons to come and talk to the Michigan basketball team. He also spent time during the pre-draft camp in the summers with former Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks head trainer Mark Phile, who recommended Stricker to both Jordan and Collins.

"I have been associated with a lot of good athletic trainers that have worked at the college level and have worked in the NBA," said Stricker. "I think it's as much as anything being lucky enough to know good people that recommend your name when a job comes open."

So far, Stricker has enjoyed his first season with the Wizards. He complimented the front office for the turnaround of the franchise and for bringing in players that are willing to give it their all to succeed.

"I think one thing that Doug, Michael, Wes, Rod and everybody have done is that they have brought in a good group of guys," said Stricker. "They're well behaved, respectful, accountable and that’s all directly related to having Michael in the locker room, Doug as a coach, Wes, Rod and everybody upstairs, and the organization is very good that way."

Assistant Trainer: Janet Panek

Panek helps Chris Whitney with his wrist.

Eric Hernandez/Wizards Photo

The veteran on the training staff is third year assistant trainer Janet Panek.

Panek began her career as a student trainer at Temple University where she worked with the football team, field hockey team and softball team. She finished with a degree in athletic training and went to work for a national rehabilitation company where she was contracted out to work with high school athletes.

The company then transferred her to Washington to work as an intern trainer with the Wizards and Mystics. When Jordan came in as the President of Basketball Operations he approved a full-time assistant trainer position that was given the Panek.

Panek now travels full-time with the team and aids Stricker not just with the players, but also by being a NBA resource for him.

"I would hate to think how difficult the transition would have been if I didn’t have someone like Janet here to help me," Stricker said. "Janet knows the NBA. She's a resource for me, and does a lot of keeping the things running in the training room on a day-to-day basis."

Panek said that she has enjoyed working with Stricker this season, and has enjoyed the new responsibilities granted to her throughout the year.

"I like the interactions that I have with (the players)," Panek said. "I like that my responsibility has increased this year which I find to be more challenging and enjoyable. Overall, I feel more part of the team, and I enjoy coming to work every day."

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Jim Hughes and
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Debi Hughes

Jim and Debi Hughes join Stricker as a new addition to the Wizards training staff this season.

Jim began his career when he was in college at University of Illinois. While working towards a degree in kinesiology, the study of human movement, he had to volunteer for 60 hours in a related field. He decided to volunteer at a health club where he became friends with the general manager and teamed up with him to start a personal training business inside the fitness center.

Jim Hughes

Eric Hernandez/Wizards Photo

Upon receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, Jim stayed at Illinois to work on two masters degrees, one in exercise physiology and the other in sports medicine. While working on his masters he was offered a graduate assistant spot on the strength and conditioning staff.

After graduating with two masters, Jim moved to Chicago and became a personal trainer at the Gold Coast Multiplex where he met trainer Tim Grover. At the time Grover was training NBA stars Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Juwan Howard and Tim Hardaway. Jim and Grover hit it off and in 1998 Grover recommended Hughes for the strength coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He would go on to start a successful strength program from scratch, building a new weight room and facility to help facilitate 300 athletes in 18 different sports.

When Jordan and Grover talked to him about taking the strength and conditioning job with the Wizards this past off-season, Jim jumped at the opportunity.

"Knowing Mike and knowing Tim, this sort of fell into place as being at the right place at the right time," said Jim. "I owe a lot of my opportunities to Tim. He's been a great resource."

In addition to Jim taking the position, his wife, Debi, was was hired as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. The two first worked together at the fitness center while they both attended University of Illinois, then again at the Gold Coast Multiplex in Chicago.

"Since I have known her we have worked together," Jim said. "It's an unbelievable opportunity that Michael and Wes and Rod have given us."

Debi spots Courtney Alexander during a weight-lifting session.

Wizards Photo

"I enjoy the opportunity to work with NBA athletes," Debi added. "I never had worked with them before, and I enjoy seeing my contribution to the team when the players take the floor."

So far this season, the Hughes have created strength and conditioning programs that have not only made players stronger, but quicker as well. Stricker said that it is enjoyable to work with someone that has the same training principles.

"Jim and I have similar philosophies in that we both believe that strength training is the key to keep most guys from getting hurt but also helping them in their rehab," Stricker said. "We are also big believers that you can increase their athletic ability and their ability on the court through the weight room."

Hughes is grateful for the opportunity both he and Debi have been given by the organization and hopes that his training of the players off the court will help them succeed on the court.

"Working with these elite athletes and role models and with Michael, Rod, Wes and Doug and everyone in the entire organization, it has been a great opportunity," Hughes said.